Kobe Drops 60 to Drop the Mic on an Unparalleled 20 Year CareerI never thought we would see that again. The last time Kobe Bryant scored at least 60 points in a game was seven years--and many injuries--ago but in his final regular season game Bryant turned back the clock with a performance that can only be described as astounding: 60 points on 22-50 field goal shooting, including 38 points in the second half, 23 points in the fourth quarter and 17 straight points down the stretch as the L.A. Lakers came from behind to beat the Utah Jazz 101-96. Bryant's breathing was labored by the end of the game, his gait looked wobbly at times and on his two dunk attempts he barely got the ball over the rim but Bryant also displayed deft footwork, tremendous grit/determination and a nice shooting touch inside the three point arc (16-29). Bryant added four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one blocked shot and just two turnovers while playing 42 minutes (including all but the final four seconds of the second half) on a night when the plan was for Bryant--whose minutes have been restricted all season--to play just 32 minutes.
Bryant set the NBA single-game scoring high for the 2015-16 season, he joined Bob Pettit as the second player in NBA history to score at least 40 points in a game versus every team in the league, he became the oldest player to score at least 60 points in a game and he joined Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry as the only players to launch at least 50 field goal attempts in a game.
Assuming Bryant is eventually inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame, this performance shatters the previous mark for most points by a Hall of Famer in his final game, set by John Havlicek with 29 points in 1978. Julius Erving, Gail Goodrich, Dave Bing and Maurice Stokes are next on that list with 24 points each.
In a recent interview, Bryant said that if he had the power to turn back time he would not do it because living in the moment would lose all meaning if it were possible to just go back and relive situations until you obtained the desired outcome. The fact that each moment is precious and can never be relived adds "spice" to life, according to Bryant.
If Bryant did not turn back time he at least provided a flashback to a time--not so long ago--when he could dominate games at will. After it was over, he spoke with pride about his daughters watching the game and being old enough now to appreciate his play; he wryly noted that they seemed surprised by how well he played, even after he assured them that he used to do things like this all the time.
During the pregame and halftime shows, Jalen Rose and Doug Collins shared their favorite Kobe Bryant stories. Rose mentioned Bryant's 81 point game, during which Bryant shredded Rose's Toronto Raptors. Rose noted that Bryant had few highlight reel plays in that game and that Bryant did not talk trash or act in a disrespectful manner; Bryant was strictly business--a stone cold basketball assassin--and Rose respects that.
Collins singled out the 2008 Olympics, when Bryant was the star of stars for Team USA during the gold medal game, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter to make sure that Team USA did not suffer another loss in FIBA play.
Bryant will always be compared to Michael Jordan--a comparison that Bryant openly invited from the start--and Bryant will always fall short, at least numerically in terms of championships, MVPs and scoring titles. However, Bryant deserves credit for setting the bar so high for himself and he is without question the closest thing we have seen to Jordan since Jordan retired; Bryant is the only "heir to Air" whose body and/or mind did not collapse under the pressure of trying to be Jordan's successor. Think about it: Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady were all touted as the next Jordan but none of them even came close; they were not durable enough physically and/or did not have the right mindset. LeBron James has also been compared to Jordan and, even though James is without question one of the greatest players of all-time, he has fallen short of the Jordan standard in terms of championships. James has also repeatedly been outplayed in the NBA Finals by lesser players, something that never happened to Jordan.
Hubie Brown repeatedly emphasized during the telecast how incredible it is that Bryant made the All-NBA Team 15 times and the All-Defensive Team 12 times. Brown stated that the great players get it done at both ends of the court for a sustained period of time.
We all know that Bryant has not been consistently great or particularly efficient this season but it is commendable that he played as well (and as often) as he did considering that he has put in 20 years of service and that he has come back from a torn Achilles, a broken bone in his knee, a chronically injured shoulder and assorted minor ailments.
Bryant has not lost his skills but his body is falling apart, at least in terms of the health that is necessary to play professional basketball at an elite level. It is worth remembering that Bryant sustained the career-altering Achilles injury at 34 years of age in his 17th season, a campaign during which he made the All-NBA First Team and finished fifth in MVP voting. Bryant was carrying an impossible workload as he tried to push, pull and drag the Lakers into the playoffs; he played 319 of a possible 336 minutes in the seven games prior to sustaining the injury.
Bryant's reaction to the injury was remarkable; he stayed in the game and sank two critical free throws, because if he had let someone else shoot the free throws then by rule he would not have been able to reenter the game--and he actually was trying to figure out how to play with a ruptured Achilles tendon! Lakers trainer Gary Vitti recalls that Bryant attempted to manually roll the tendon back down his leg before Bryant walked under his own power back to the locker room. When I first saw that image of Bryant going to the locker room I immediately thought of the times that Paul Pierce and Dwyane Wade left the court in a wheelchair with injuries that were not nearly as serious as Bryant's.
We will never see a player like Bryant again; he had a unique combination of impeccable fundamentals, supreme confidence, relentless competitive drive and willingness/capacity to play at a high level while injured. LeBron James is bigger, stronger and possibly faster than Bryant was at his peak but he does not come close to matching Bryant in any of the aforementioned categories--and that is why Bryant won as many titles in his career's second act as James has won in his entire career thus far.
Piggybacking off of Hubie Brown's comments during the telecast, it is highly unlikely that there will ever be another NBA guard who plays 20 seasons, let alone 20 seasons with the same team while winning five titles, making the All-NBA Team 15 times and earning 12 All-Defensive Team selections.
Bryant is firmly entrenched in pro basketball's Pantheon and his performance in his final game is a fitting tribute to the mental/psychological traits and the basketball skill set that enabled him to be so dominant for such a long period of time.
After the game, Bryant spoke to the home fans, expressed his heartfelt appreciation and then literally dropped the mic at center court after saying, "Mamba out."
posted by David Friedman @ 4:51 AM